Monday, 5 October 2015

Review: 'Ideal: the Novel and the Play' by Ayn Rand

IdealAyn Rand has been one of my favourite authors for a good few years now. It all started with The Fountainhead which simple blew me away. Then came Anthem, not too long ago, and now, when I heard that a previously unpublished novel and play by Rand was getting published, I knew I simply had to get my hands on Ideal. This volume includes the same story twice, once as a novel and once as a play. Often I'm hesitant about an author's unpublished works being relieved post-mortem, but in this case I had no problem with it. The play had been published and finished juvenalia is often released after death.

Pub. Date: 07/07/2015
Publisher: NAL

In print for the first time ever, author and philosopher Ayn Rand’s novel Ideal.
Originally conceived as a novel, but then transformed into a play by Ayn Rand, Ideal is the story of beautiful but tormented actress Kay Gonda. Accused of murder, she is on the run and turns for help to six fans who have written letters to her, each telling her that she represents their ideal—a respectable family man, a far-left activist, a cynical artist, an evangelist, a playboy, and a lost soul. Each reacts to her plight in his own way, their reactions a glimpse into their secret selves and their true values. In the end their responses to her pleas give Kay the answers she has been seeking.
Ideal was written in 1934 as a novel, but Ayn Rand thought the theme of the piece would be better realized as a play and put the novel aside. Now, both versions of Ideal are available for the first time ever to the millions of Ayn Rand fans around the world, giving them a unique opportunity to explore the creative process of Rand as she wrote first a book, then a play, and the differences between the two.
Ideal is quite different from many of Rand's other works and that is only partially because you get to read it straight away in two different formats. Novels often get turned into plays, musicals or films and often this adaptation isn't always completely genuine or literal. Since Rand herself made the move to drama it would almost be expected that the two forms of Ideal would be relatively similar if not a seamless translation. It's not so. The two feel almost completely different, despite technically having the same story. Where a novel can be filled with internal thought and endless descriptions a play has to rely on action and dialogue to involve the audience. Here the only flaw with Ideal as a play is that not a lot of action happens in the play. As Kay Gonda moves from one fan to the other we get fascinating insights into the fallibility of man, but there is no real activity involved with it that can translate completely onto the stage. It works beautifully as a novel however, really giving the reader different insights into all its different characters.

As Leonard Peikoff writes in his introduction, this story has surprisingly negative edge to it for Ayn Rand. All of her novels have characters that start out with a negative view of the world, of how it affects and tortures people with its seeming carelessness. Just think of Dominique Francon in The Foundtainhead. In Ideal we get a similar character, a lost soul who simply can't seem to live here. Whereas Dominique found something, and someone, to change her mind about the world, this character in Ideal gets no such way out. During the writing of this novel/play was frustrated about her struggles to get her work published and felt she had no one to share her spirit and stories with. This frustration about a world that doesn't understand, a world in which something is missing for everyone, in which everyone hungers for something a little bit higher than what is offered. It's a feeling that, I believe, still very much echoes with people today. Especially the fans' obsession with Kay Gonda is something that is very recognizable nowadays.

As I said above, I am a major Ayn Rand fan. Something about the way she writes really echoes with something that I find hard to define. Partially it is the endless search for something higher, something that makes life profound that I really enjoy about her books. Although one can see that Rand developed a lot after Ideal I still think it is very much "her". The novel and its characters are harsh caricatures of people's overblown attitudes to celebrity and other issues such as  religion, wealth, etc. This novel is pure Ayn Rand, in that respect, but in others it is clear that there is still something that needs grow in her to get to her major novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

I give this book...

3 Universes.

I absolutely love Ayn Rand. The only reason I've given this edition 3 Universes rather than more is because it's a shorter novella rather than an complete novel. However, for Ayn Rand fans this is highly recommended because it's a great insight into Rand's own frustrations and how she developed some of her ideas which came to fruition in her other works.

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